The melody of Kashmir continues to mesmerize all!

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The struggles, successes of Shafi Sopori

By: Tousif Raza

Music is a collection of coordinated sound or sounds. Creating music is the process of putting sounds and tones in an order, often combining them to create a unified composition. People who make music creatively organize and sequence the sounds for a melodious tune. Music is a nature’s creation as sounds are all around us- from chirping of birds and waves lapping against a coastline to cars honking in traffic. But sometimes sounds are put together in purposeful ways to create a specific atmosphere or to express ideas or emotions. Such organized sounds are called music. Originally sounds and tones in nature are ways to access lord and to find his ways. A prominent poet of present era, Satish Vimal, is of the opinion that music is a creation and opens the doors to Lord. He says in one of his poems:

“Don’t you listen to music?

‘Are you hard of hearing?

Don’t you admire the flowers- are you blind!

Oh! The sworn appraiser of melancholy

Why to Lord have you denied access to’

Almost all human cultures have some tradition of making music. But few people are professionally known for this art. Kashmir valley has produced many legends of music and Shafi Sopori is one among them. Shafi Sopori started his trademark rendition from ‘Dum Dum’ of the famous song on different stages, later he improved his own record and continued to emerge as good contributor of music in Kashmir. First time when he performed in Gulmarg, he rocked and came out as a star.

While sharing his first experience he expressed many excited but worthy words. He said, “the song cast a spell on the audience and everybody, from the singer to the listeners, were in trance. Some of the audience members started swaying in Sufi dance. After the song ended an astonishing incident happened which I had never imagined. Six tourists who were in the audience came to me and paid their respects ,” said Sopori who was taken aback as they fell at his feet while he pleaded them not to do so. “I was shocked because as Muslims we don’t bow to anybody except Allah and they were trying to touch my feet. I told them why they were doing it after which they told me that the performance had transported them into various layers of imagination”.

His father, Ghulam Mohiuddin Najar, was a famous Naat Khwan of Sopore and was known for his sweet voice. Though his parents passed away when he was quite young, but the talent was always in his blood. Sopori had a hard life right from the beginning. His sisters were already married and this put Sopori in a position wherein he was literally alone in the world to fend for himself. He was brought up by his uncle and later the father of one of his friend sponsored his education but that was always far from enough. In the life of hardships, Sopori had natural inclination towards music. Nobody had taught and neither had he ever visited any singer, but whenever he got hold of some box or even plate for dinner in his early youth, he would play it like an instrument. This would often receive ridicule from his sister or others. “As I grew up, my love for music reached crescendo. It had become my life and I couldn’t live without it. My friends would encourage me and I would sing for them. Slowly the word spread I was known as a small singer in the community,” said Sopori.

During the initial times those who saw his talent advised him to approach Radio. He soon came knocking at the door of one of the few rare avenues for the artists in Kashmir at that time. Luckily he met a neighbor from Hygam, who took him straight to Ghulam Rasool Akhoon. He asked him to see if he had got some talent after which Akhoon askd him to stay with some other boys who too were hopeful for auditions. When Sopori sang on his turn, everybody including Akhoon was stunned with his voice. He just held his hand and took him to his studio. “Prof. Dost Mohammed was also there and he stopped playing harmonium when he listened to me singing. Then came the first time when I stood before a microphone and sang two songs.

This was the beginning of the career as well as struggle for Sopori. Akhooon taught him the techniques of singing and capturing audiences and advised him to learn music professionally at the Institute of Music and Fine Arts. Sopori was amazed to learn that there was an institute of such kind too. For next four years Sopori would commute from Sopore to Srinagar to learn music. Borrowing money, asking for lifts from passerby and daily walking from Batmalloo to Rajbagh via Bund because he had no money for bus fare. “Sometimes while walking on the bund I would ask myself why I was even doing this”.

Sopori who later had skip one year at the institute as his financial conditions deteriorated and such conditions continud for him for a long time when he barely managed food for himself.  The opportunity knocked at his door but due to paucity of resources he had to let it go. In 2000 he, along with Waheed Jeelani and Mudasir, qualified for national TV program SaReGaMa. As Waheed and Mudasir reached Mumbai, Sopori couldn’t due to lack of resources.

Sopori would often come to Radio and Doordarshan where work was scarce and internal politics was in abundance. Barring few performances here and there, not much avenues were present for the talented singer. But the commitment to singing never faded. During this time Sopori who was known for his Bollywood songs and after some introspection and the advice from seniors he started adopting a different style. “I thought that for Kashmiri folk, Ghazal and other genres there were stalwarts who had already established themselves and it was difficult for him to make place for himself. “Meanwhile I developed interest in classical and I thought it to be good for me and for almost eight years I started studying the Sufi genre of music by listening and watching Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Abida Parveen like singers”.

The switch to sufi singing was a timely decision as he excelled in the field. In 2009 officials of the NGO Sarhad heard him singing at Kashmir University and they invited him to the annual Kashmir festival in Pune. The NGO asked him to give in writing that he won’t charge anything and Sopori for the sake of art agreed. At Pune, when Sopori sang the famous Nusrat Fateh Ali Qawali- Dama Dam Mast Qallander- the audience went crazy and everybody started dancing and no other singer got such a response. A Minister who was chief guest at the function gave him cash award of Rs 50000. After that Sopori became regular at the festival.

Back home his talent was also being acknowledged. Once he was invited to sing at a function in Gulmarg where guests from SAARC countries were present and here also the audience was spellbound and gave a standing ovation to Sopori.  During one of such events Sopori had the privilege of performing before music maestro Bhajan Sopori. It was here that he became Shafi Sopori from Mohammad Shafi Najar as the maestro would call him by the Sopori title.

Despite success coming his way, Sopori remains down to earth. Once in Pune, he out of courtesy, started helping a drummer in gathering his instruments. The drummer was none other than Vikas from A R Rehman’s group who was so impressed with Sopori that he invited him to his rehearsal session wherein he taught him for two straight days. As Sopori says, “I learnt in those two days as much as I had learnt in my whole academic life prior”. The result was as expected- Sopori stole the show yet again two days later. As his fame grew, Sopori has been regularly invited to major functions in Delhi, Nagpur, Mumbai, Bangalore, Jammu and other places. He had performed before Bollywood gathering alongside Hans Raj Hans as well. He is perhaps the only singer from the state who is invited to Punjab for singing Punjabi and Sufi songs, despite Punjab having numerous singers.

Ever since his switch over to Dhamal type head rolling movements, Sopori has been continuously improving on it. When asked, he simply says, “I hardly know what I do during these events as I feel in a different world”.

The corporate loves Sopori as he is invited to their events all over the world. The next in line is invitation from an MNC event at Shirdi next month. Apart from being a talented singer, Sopori is a good composer too having composed about 185 songs in Kashmiri and around 50 in Urdu. Due to paucity of resources and a studio, most of them are unrecorded. When Sopori started, he was the first of his kind singer in entire Baramulla district but now he has trained many students. His ‘Jankar Musical Group’ which he startd in 2003, is considered as the first musical group of Kashmir.

The 1972 born singer feels indebted to his wife who has been his support all these years in poverty and prosperity. His son, a class 10 student, is also interested in music and practices for an hour along with his father very day. With so much accomplished, Sopori says it is a vast field and he has not even touched the surface.


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